ILMC Sails The Scary Seas

Time flies by for ILMC. Two years ago the organisers were asking delegates to remember their hippie days – as if – and now it seems they want to pack them off on a Saga holiday.

The common thread, if there is one, may be that – either though narcotics or senility – the delegates are expected to behave as if they can’t remember anything. Hopefully the panels won’t be so drab delegates fall asleep or just sit in the corner and dribble.

The next conference, or “one of life’s last great travel experiences,” is themed around a world cruise and will no doubt include a lot of talk about global economic depression.

The press release includes a picture of a cruise liner, which looks alarmingly like the Titanic, and maybe – after years of surfing on a wave of growth – it could be the year when the live music biz has a head-on collision with an iceberg.

The ILMC, which is expecting 1,000 delegates from more than 55 countries, promises some discussion on “how well the industry has weathered the storm of recession.” It may be premature.

Some economists suggest the wave of growth that was said to have preceded the global financial collapse was really a wave of credit. Some music fans may start 2010 paying for the gigs they saw at the end of 2009.

Despite talk about “weathering the storm” and coming out of recession, the fact remains that by conference time the U.K. will probably be around £700 billion in debt – nearly 50 percent of GDP – and paying it back will result in higher taxes and less disposable income, no matter who wins the upcoming election. The rate of VAT goes back up to 17.5 percent Jan. 1.

The government’s own “sustainable investment rule,” which it’s broken, says it’s dangerous to borrow more than 40 percent of GDP.

Other countries have even bigger problems. Japan’s national debt is around 194 percent of GDP, Italy’s is more than 100 percent and the U.S. debt is close to 75 percent of GDP.

The Financial Times reckons that if mortgages are included, every man, woman and child in the U.K. has personal debts averaging out at about £35,000.

The pre-budget package to be revealed Dec. 9 may give some clues as to how the present government intends to tighten the belt. Perhaps it’s a welcome distraction when ILMC invites us to put on Hawaiian shirts and drink pina coladas.

The full lineup for the panels won’t be announced until February, although secondary ticketing will likely be somewhere on the agenda, along with the ever-rising rates for PRS. Even if artists and promoters want to cap ticket prices, there are other factors threatening to push them higher – the VAT is only the start of it.

The ILMC organisers believe technology and the quickening pace of change raise many issues, including the ongoing evolution of the artist/fan relationship. There are now so many ways of accessing music and communicating that soon fans may struggle to find the time to see bands.

Perhaps they’ll just sit at home interacting. Staying in could be the new going out.

Although it’s hardly a live music issue, artists and managers may want to argue about how to deal with Internet piracy. The ideal solution would be pan-European at least, although there’s no more than a remote hope that will happen in the foreseeable future.

“As the EU expands, it is clearly the case that these small, peripheral nations have no significant cultural heritage to protect in an international context, whereas Germany, France, Britain and Ireland certainly do,” U2 manager Paul McGuinness told the Financial Times.

“When the Czech Republic held the EU presidency, for example, simply by not tabling a motion on [copyright] term extension, they were able to defeat it. The Czechs!”

Although the U.K. and U.S. monopoly authorities will likely have ruled on the Live Nation-Ticketmaster a couple of months before ILMC, it’s hard to imagine the subject won’t come up a few times.

Someone, probably U.K. Music chief Fergal Sharkey, will explain how the 2003 Licensing Act is drowning grassroots live music in red tape. The department of culture, media and sport that controls the licensing of pub venues says the opposite.

Ever since the act came into force there’s been a long-running argument between the DCMS and its critics, who assert that dodgy statistics, misleading statements by ministers, and a failure to collect the right sort of data make its claims unbelievable. Far from “flourishing,” as the government claims, Sharkey and other critics of the 2003 act say music in pubs is declining or dying.